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How can I Learn to Delegate Decision Making?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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If you hesitate to delegate, you are not alone. Many managers would rather do everything themselves than have to figure out how to ask someone else to make decisions to complete tasks -- either for fear of coming across as too demanding or that the work will not be completed correctly. But a manager cannot personally accomplish every task. He or she must rely on other people to help achieve objectives. Like it or not, learning to delegate is a necessary part of business management. You can learn to delegate decision making by taking both your own perspective and that of your employee into consideration.

The first step in learning to delegate decision making is to decide what decisions you make can be delegated. Put your ego aside and ask yourself what skills or talents your subordinate may have that are better developed than yours for accomplishing certain tasks. That may be difficult, but it does not mean failure on your part, as good managers trust in and develop the talents of others. Just be sure to use the time you save when you delegate to complete work that best utilizes your own genius to make yourself shine in your own right. Learn that you do not have to give up control when you delegate.

Next, learn to delegate the decision making tasks you want done by developing your communications skills. Learn to communicate clearly exactly what the employee is expected to do and when exactly the employee is to have it done by. Be sure to give the employee enough autonomy to figure out the details as micro managing employees can slow down productivity and make employees feel that you lack confidence in their decision making ability. Also be sure employees know they can come to you with any questions and concerns they may have about a project.

Learn to accept failure as a part of growth when you delegate decision making by allowing the employee to make mistakes and to learn from them. Show your confidence in your subordinate by delegating another task soon after the one he or she made a mistake on. Realize that when you delegate work to an employee by making him or her a partner in the decision making process, you are helping the employee feel more valuable and appreciated in the company. Such shared decision making can lead to greater employee productivity as well as an increased level of communication between you and your subordinate.

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Discussion Comments
By burcidi — On Dec 08, 2011

@cloudel-- I think people who are perfectionists have the hardest time 'letting go of the wheel' so to speak.

I think that you first need to accept that everything cannot be and doesn't need to be perfect and that it's not the end of the world if something goes wrong. Things can go wrong when they're entirely in your control too. Being overwhelmed with work and stressed is only going to reduce your energy, motivation and efficiency at work.

I agree with @andee that it's best to take it slowly. Start delegating small decisions at first and give yourself time to get comfortable with that. As you trust your employees more and more, you'll be able to let go of the wheel more easily.

By serenesurface — On Dec 07, 2011

Delegating is not an easy job. When I delegate work to other people, I don't only worry about whether they're going to do it right and on time, but I also worry about whether I am explaining my expectations correctly and guiding them in the right direction.

When I first started doing this, I did have a couple of employees that didn't give me what I wanted. At first, I thought it was just them and that they weren't good at those tasks. After I saw their projects for several other people in the office though, I realized that I wasn't doing a good enough job guiding them. I think I intimidated them so much, that they didn't even feel comfortable with checking their progress by me.

When I realized this, I took all the people I worked with to lunch and got to know them a little bit. I told them to feel free to ask me as many questions as necessary while they worked. I gave them more detailed instructions, emailed them extra info so that they could develop some background info on the issues at hand.

They did a fantastic job with whatever I gave them after that. I have not hesitated to delegate work to them since. I even send them to meetings and events to speak on my behalf now. So it takes both sides for delegation to work well.

By ddljohn — On Dec 07, 2011

As an employee, I often see managers delegating to other employees work that they don't want to do themselves. Not all managers and supervisors take the time to consider their skills and knowledge and their employees' skills and knowledge before delegating tasks.

Of course, there are really great managers who don't mind sharing responsibility and success with other employees. They put the success and coordination of the team and organization before their personal success and position.

But unfortunately, there are also many managers who feel that they are the only capable ones of making certain decisions or handling certain tasks. These managers tend to pass on the not-so-important tasks to other employees, while overworking themselves with the more difficult and important ones.

I think this article is a great reminder to managers and decision makers that an organization is a team and the more involved everyone is, the more successful I think that organization will be.

By LisaLou — On Dec 06, 2011

I had a boss that did not do a good job of delegating, yet when things went wrong, they were never her fault.

This was a frustrating situation for everyone in the office. Not only was she always overworked, stressed and uptight, but that permeated through the whole department.

I think there are many people who struggle with this, as it can be hard to give other people the responsibility when it might be easier and faster to do it yourself.

From this situation I learned that a good boss is also good at delegating. Not only do you need to delegate, but how much and how often.

Now that I am in a position where I have employees under me, I understand the conflict. I also know that my department will be much stronger when I don't take on the whole work load, and delegate the right tasks to the right people.

By andee — On Dec 06, 2011

Delegating decision making is something that is just as important at home as it is in the workplace.

One of the hardest things for me to do is let my kids start making their down decisions - especially when I see them making wrong or inappropriate ones.

My first instinct is to step in and make the right decisions for them. I know this isn't usually best for them, as they need to learn from experience and from the consequences of their decisions.

This is why I think that no matter how you delegate, it should be done in small increments. By giving someone a little bit of that freedom and choice, they will begin to gain the confidence they need.

I think this is one way to ensure we have good leaders. If they are able to learn from their mistakes, but gain confidence along the way, is is a win-win situation for everyone.

By Perdido — On Dec 06, 2011

While I am not the manager at my office, I do have several people working under me. I am sort of an unofficial assistant manager, and my supervisor told me that I am welcome to delegate chores to my helpers.

I felt responsible for everything that was placed on my desk, so it was tough letting those projects go to someone else. I really did need help, though. There weren't enough hours in the day to do all I had to do by the deadline, so I developed a plan of delegation.

I typed up detailed instructions of what needed to be done with each project. I handed these instructions to the employees and let them go to work.

Three of them did great, but one really messed up the project. I had to do it over, but I gave her another one the next day to test her. She messed up this one, too, so I have learned not to include her in my delegation circle.

By OeKc05 — On Dec 05, 2011

@cloudel – I was once in your shoes. I know how hard it can be to trust someone to do things that normally fall under your jurisdiction. You are the manager, and you feel like everything that involves decision making should be left up to you.

I was going crazy from the stress of my job. I had too many demands, and I finally cracked. I had to take a “mental health” day, and I delegated all my tasks for that day to my employees over the phone.

When I returned, I saw that they had done everything I had asked them to do. They had accomplished what I feared could only be done by me.

It was kind of hard to admit that I wasn't the only one capable of doing these things, but the relief of realizing I could delegate them was so great that it didn't hurt too much. Now, I don't hesitate to delegate!

By cloudel — On Dec 04, 2011

I struggle with delegating tasks to my employees. I manage an office of ten people, and I really do need help with some things that I know they have time to assist me with. The problem is that I am super picky and meticulous, and I have so much trouble letting go of the control.

Last week, we had a damaged shipment of products go out to our customers. Over the weekend, I received more than fifty messages on my machine. I should have let my employees help me with some of the callbacks, but I knew that these customers were already upset, and I felt the situation needed to be handled delicately.

Since my employees are mostly sales reps, I should have trusted them to deal appropriately with irate customers. They have experience in this area. Instead, I took on the task myself, and it was very overwhelming.

Next time I need help, I am determined to ask for it. Does anyone have any advice for how to let go of the wheel? I'm a beginner at this, so I need any suggestions you can give me.

By Oceana — On Dec 04, 2011

@dfoster85 – You are right about that. Having something done in a different way than you would have done it is better than not having it done at all.

My husband folds the clothes in a way that is strange to me, but I am so happy to have that task done that I don't complain. My coworker helps me out with building ads sometimes, and though his look very different than mine normally do, I am happy for the help.

It's the same way with managers who have to deal with their employees' various techniques for getting the tasks done. The way my manager would write a summary of a meeting is much different than my writing style, yet he trusts me to take care of it. I appreciate the fact that he doesn't instruct me to do it his way, because I probably couldn't if I tried.

By backdraft — On Dec 03, 2011

My dad has always struggled with delegating decision making. This is particularly frustrating because I took over the family business and for the first 5 or 10 years it felt like my dad ran the company from over my shoulder.

When he retired he made it clear that I would be in charge of operations and would have the ultimate say over decision making. But he immediately began to undercut my choices, go behind my back with the employees and generally run the company as he believed it should be run. This was insulting and frustrating. I don't expect him to agree with me on every single little thing but he gave me responsibility and he should respect the passing of the guard.

By tigers88 — On Dec 03, 2011

I think that one of the most important parts of delegating decision making is learning to honestly and objectively judge peoples strengths and weaknesses. Many of us believe that we can do this easily but there is a lot more bias and unknown than is commonly accepted.

Delegating responsibilities is all about finding the best person for a specific task. Taking an honest measure of their skills and record in the context of the project at hand is the only way to confidently hand down responsibility.

By Kat919 — On Dec 02, 2011

I think one of the hardest things about delegating is giving the other person a chance to get it right. I had a boss once who would assign people tasks, but then change her mind about who would do it within the first day or two! The result was complete confusion.

It would have been much more helpful if she had tried giving guidance first, something like, "I was picturing something more like..." but instead she just jerked us around. It was disheartening, to say the least, and made her look indecisive because she could never stick to a decision.

By dfoster85 — On Dec 02, 2011

Learning to delegate at home or work really means accepting two things: you can't do everything yourself, and your way is not the only way.

My husband does the vacuuming. I didn't realize for the first couple of years that his strategy for vacuuming animal hair off the *top* of the couch is to lift up the *entire* vacuum cleaner and run it along the top! Apparently, attachments are for sissies. And I wouldn't do it that way, but apparently it works, so, whatever.

Parenting as a team takes even more acceptance! There's more than one way to bathe a baby, soothe a toddler or discipline a kindergartener.

And at work, your coworker might use different software than you would have, might write out by hand something you would have typed or vice versa, but you gotta let it go.

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